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“Bring Up the Bodies” is a historical fiction novel written by Hilary Mantel. This book is the second one in a series of novels focused on the life of Thomas Cromwell, a chief minister to King Henry VIII in the 16th century. The book has been widely acclaimed for its authentic depiction of the world of 16th-century England and its complex characters.

The novel is set during the Tudor dynasty and highlights the political and personal turmoil that characterized the reign of King Henry VIII. The story is narrated by Thomas Cromwell, who is responsible for managing the King’s affairs, including getting rid of his wives.

In this article, we will discuss the plot, historical context, characters, writing style, and audiobook narration of “Bring Up the Bodies”. We will also explore the themes explored in the novel and compare it to its predecessor. Furthermore, we will examine the critical acclaim and awards that “Bring Up the Bodies” has received, and reader reactions and reviews to the book.

Key Takeaways

  • “Bring Up the Bodies” is a historical fiction novel written by Hilary Mantel, the second in a series about the life of Thomas Cromwell.
  • The story is set during the Tudor dynasty and explores the political and personal turmoil of King Henry VIII’s reign.
  • In this article, we will examine the plot, historical context, characters, writing style, and audiobook narration of “Bring Up the Bodies”.
  • We will also explore the themes explored in the novel, compare it to its predecessor, and examine its critical acclaim and reader reactions and reviews.
  • “Bring Up the Bodies” has been praised for its authentic depiction of 16th-century England and its complex characters.

The Plot of “Bring Up the Bodies”

“Bring Up the Bodies” is the sequel to Hilary Mantel’s award-winning historical novel “Wolf Hall”, set during the reign of Henry VIII. The novel follows the story of Thomas Cromwell, a lawyer and statesman, and his rise to power in the Tudor court.

In “Bring Up the Bodies”, the focus shifts to Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife, who has fallen out of favor with the king. The book covers the events leading up to Anne’s execution and Cromwell’s role in the proceedings.

Mantel uses vivid imagery and descriptive language to transport readers into the Tudor court, full of political intrigue and betrayal. The novel is narrated in the third person, offering a unique perspective on the historical events.

The novel is a masterful work of historical fiction, interweaving real-life events with fictionalized dialogue and inner thoughts of the characters. Mantel’s attention to detail adds authenticity to the story and makes it a gripping read.

Historical Context of the Novel

Set in the 16th century, “Bring Up the Bodies” is steeped in Tudor history. Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, and Thomas Cromwell are prominent historical figures that feature in the novel. The book’s central event, the downfall of Anne Boleyn and its aftermath, is based on true events that took place in 1536. Hilary Mantel’s extensive research and attention to historical accuracy can be seen throughout the novel.

Mantel also explores themes of religion, politics, and power struggles in Tudor England. The Reformation, which saw Protestantism being established as a separate religion from Catholicism, had a significant impact on this period. This led to profound changes in society, including religious conflicts, power shifts, and even witch hunts. Understanding the religious and political climate of the time adds layers of richness and complexity to the story.

The novel’s title, “Bring Up the Bodies,” is a nod to the macabre practices of the time, where the bodies of executed prisoners were displayed for all to see on the city walls. This was done in order to strike fear into the public and demonstrate the absolute power of the monarch.

Mantel’s attention to historical detail does not detract from the story’s coherence and readability. Instead, it allows the reader to be transported back in time and gain a better understanding of the characters and their motivations.

Characters in “Bring Up the Bodies”

“Bring Up the Bodies” features a wide and diverse range of characters that play important roles in the overall story. Some of the most prominent characters include:

Character Role in the Novel
Thomas Cromwell The protagonist and primary focus of the story. Cromwell is King Henry VIII’s chief minister, and his loyalty is tested as he navigates the political intrigues of the royal court.
Anne Boleyn The second wife of Henry VIII who is accused of treason and adultery, which leads to her eventual execution.
King Henry VIII The ruler of England, who is conflicted between his love for Anne Boleyn and his desires for a male heir.
Jane Seymour The third wife of Henry VIII and the woman who eventually gives him his long-awaited male heir.
Thomas More A devout Catholic who opposes Henry’s decision to divorce Catherine of Aragon, leading to his eventual execution.
Cardinal Wolsey Henry VIII’s former chief minister who falls out of favor and dies while awaiting trial for treason.

These characters are all complex and multifaceted, making “Bring Up the Bodies” a rich and layered exploration of life in the Tudor court.

Writing Style and Narrative Technique

Hilary Mantel’s writing style in “Bring Up the Bodies” is marked by its poetic complexity and its fluidity. The narrative technique used in the novel is a combination of first- and third-person narration, which is used to great effect in exploring the inner psychological worlds of the characters.

Mantel expertly weaves together different narrative strands, moving back and forth in time and weaving in elements of foreshadowing and symbolism. This creates a richly textured narrative that pulls readers in and keeps them engaged throughout the story.

One of the most striking aspects of Mantel’s writing in “Bring Up the Bodies” is the vividness of her descriptions and the way she captures the sensory details of the world she is depicting. Her writing is frequently likened to that of a cinematographer, as she has a genius for capturing the visual details of a scene in a way that brings it vividly to life.

Pros Cons
Expertly weaves together different narrative strands to create a richly textured story Can be difficult to follow for readers who prefer a more straightforward narrative
Vivid descriptions and sensory details bring the story to life The poetic complexity of the writing may not be to everyone’s taste
Combination of first- and third-person narrative provides deep insights into the characters Some readers may find the frequent shifts in time and perspective disorienting

Overall, the writing style and narrative technique used in “Bring Up the Bodies” are highly effective in creating a gripping, multi-layered story that pulls readers in and keeps them engaged from start to finish.

Audiobook Narration and Performance

For those who prefer to listen to books, “Bring Up the Bodies” is available as an audiobook, narrated by Simon Vance. Vance’s crisp British accent and engaging narration style bring the characters and historical setting to life, adding an extra layer of depth to the story. His ability to convey the tension and drama of the plot makes the listening experience just as captivating as reading the book.

Listeners have praised Vance’s performance on popular audiobook platforms like Audible, where the audiobook has a rating of 4.6 out of 5 stars. One reviewer stated, “Simon Vance is a master at his craft and brings the characters to life as if you were there.” Another listener called the audiobook “captivating and easy to follow,” noting that Vance’s narration was “not too fast or too slow.” Overall, if you prefer the audiobook format, “Bring Up the Bodies” is worth the listen.

Themes Explored in “Bring Up the Bodies”

“Bring Up the Bodies” explores a myriad of themes through its intricate plot, vivid characters, and compelling writing style. One of the most prominent themes in the novel is the corruptive power of ambition and the consequences of pursuing it relentlessly. Hilary Mantel portrays the characters’ desires for power and position with masterful skill, highlighting the psychological toll it takes on them, as well as the social and political ramifications.

Another theme that pervades the novel is the role of gender and class in Tudor England. Mantel portrays the struggles of women in a male-dominated society, using historical accuracy to depict the harsh realities of their lives. The class divide is also explored through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell, a lowly-born man who rises through the ranks of society by his intelligence and cunning.

The novel also touches on the themes of betrayal, loyalty, and guilt. The intricate political web of Tudor England creates a landscape of uncertainty and mistrust, and Mantel deftly explores how individual relationships and loyalties are tested in such an environment. The choices made by the characters are often morally grey, which underscores the complexities of life in Tudor England.

Themes Explored in Bring Up the Bodies

Ultimately, “Bring Up the Bodies” is a novel that explores the human condition with depth and nuance, touching upon themes that are universal and timeless. Its exploration of ambition, power, gender, class, and morality make it a thought-provoking read that stays with the reader long after the final page is turned.

Comparisons to the Previous Novel in the Series

Hilary Mantel’s “Bring Up the Bodies” is the sequel to “Wolf Hall,” the first novel in her acclaimed Thomas Cromwell trilogy. While the two novels share certain similarities, “Bring Up the Bodies” takes a somewhat different approach to its subject matter.

In “Wolf Hall,” Mantel presents Thomas Cromwell as a shrewd and ambitious political operator, carefully navigating the treacherous court of King Henry VIII. “Bring Up the Bodies” continues this story, but with a more focused and streamlined narrative. Whereas “Wolf Hall” covers a period of several years, “Bring Up the Bodies” focuses on a few crucial months in the life of Thomas Cromwell and his relationship with Anne Boleyn.

Despite these differences, “Bring Up the Bodies” remains a worthy follow-up to “Wolf Hall,” building on the themes and characters established in the first novel. It explores the same complex historical period from a different perspective, shedding new light on well-known events and characters.

Wolf Hall Bring Up the Bodies
Tone Expansive, detailed, expansive More focused and streamlined
Narrative Structure A large time span, with events from 1500–1535 A shorter time period, focusing mostly on 1535-1536
Relationships The rise of Cromwell and his relationship with Cardinal Woolsey The fall of Anne Boleyn and Cromwell’s role in her downfall

As seen in the table, “Bring Up the Bodies” is a more focused novel, with a narrower time frame and more focused on the relationship between Cromwell and Anne Boleyn. However, the novel still manages to capture the same historical depth and attention to detail that made “Wolf Hall” so successful.

“Hilary Mantel has once again crafted a historical novel that is both deeply researched and deeply felt. Her vivid, nuanced prose brings the past to life in a way that few other writers can match.”

Overall, “Bring Up the Bodies” stands as a powerful sequel to “Wolf Hall,” building on the themes and characters established in the first novel while also exploring new territory. It is a worthy addition to Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy and a must-read for fans of historical fiction.

Critical Acclaim and Awards

“Bring Up the Bodies” has received widespread critical acclaim and has been awarded many prestigious literary prizes. The novel won the 2012 Man Booker Prize, making Hilary Mantel the first woman to win the award twice and the first British author to win the prize for both the first and second books in a series. She had previously won the award in 2009 for the first book in the series, “Wolf Hall”.

The sequel has also been shortlisted for several other awards, including the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, the Women’s Prize for Fiction, and the Costa Book Award. It was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction and was named one of the 10 Best Books of 2012 by The New York Times Book Review and The Washington Post.

The critical reception of “Bring Up the Bodies” has been overwhelmingly positive, with many praising Mantel’s mastery of historical fiction and her ability to bring Tudor England to life. Critics also praised the novel’s complex characters, intricate plot, and elegant prose.

“Mantel delivers a masterclass in literary technique, displaying an extraordinary ability to inhabit her characters, no matter how briefly, and an impeccable sense of place . . . this is a majestic work of fiction.” – The Guardian

The success of “Bring Up the Bodies” not only cemented Mantel’s place as one of the greatest historical fiction writers of our time but also propelled the novel and the entire Thomas Cromwell trilogy to a wider audience.

Awards Year
Man Booker Prize 2012
Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction 2013
Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013
Costa Book Award 2012

Reader Reactions and Reviews

“Bring Up the Bodies” has received widespread critical acclaim and has been well-received by readers since its publication. On Goodreads, the book has an average rating of 4.24 out of 5, based on over 100,000 ratings. Readers have praised the book for the author’s masterful storytelling, vivid characterizations, and immersive historical atmosphere.

Many readers appreciate how Mantel brings Henry VIII’s court and the Tudor era to life, with one reviewer on Amazon stating, “Mantel paints a picture of the Tudor world that is so real and immersive that you feel like you’re a part of it.” Others have praised the book’s portrayal of Thomas Cromwell and his rise to power, with one reviewer on Goodreads calling it “a fascinating character study that hooks you right from the start.”

However, some readers have criticized the book for its slow pace and dense prose. One reader on Goodreads wrote, “I can see that the writing is quality, but the story was just too slow for my liking.” Another reader on Amazon criticized the book’s length and attention to detail, writing, “This is a very long and detailed book, and the author spends pages and pages describing things that in the end weren’t all that relevant to the story.”

Overall, “Bring Up the Bodies” has garnered high praise and acclaim from readers and critics alike, making it a must-read for fans of historical fiction.

Impact on Historical Fiction Genre

“Bring Up the Bodies” has had a significant impact on the historical fiction genre since its publication in 2012. Mantel’s vivid portrayal of the reign of King Henry VIII has set a new standard for historical fiction writing. The book has been influential in several ways:

Impact Description
Increased Popularity The success of “Bring Up the Bodies” has brought more attention to historical fiction overall, increasing its popularity among readers and cementing its place in modern literature.
New Storytelling Techniques Mantel’s unique narrative style, highlighted in both “Bring Up the Bodies” and its predecessor “Wolf Hall,” has inspired many historical fiction writers to experiment with unconventional storytelling techniques.
Reinterpretation of Historical Figures Mantel’s interpretation of historical figures such as Thomas Cromwell has led to renewed interest in these figures and a desire to reexamine them in light of modern perspectives.

The impact of “Bring Up the Bodies” on the historical fiction genre is undeniable and has inspired writers to push the boundaries of historical fiction in new and exciting ways.

Recommendation and Final Thoughts

Overall, “Bring Up the Bodies” is a must-read for historical fiction lovers. The engaging plot, well-crafted characters, and masterful storytelling make it a standout novel in the genre.

If you enjoyed the first book in the series, “Wolf Hall,” then you will undoubtedly love this sequel. It continues the story of Thomas Cromwell’s rise to power in the Tudor court, with even higher stakes and more intricate political maneuvering.

But even if you haven’t read “Wolf Hall,” “Bring Up the Bodies” stands on its own as a captivating historical fiction novel that will transport you to the heart of 16th century England.

And if you’re an audiobook fan, I highly recommend the narration by Simon Vance. His performance brings the characters and setting to life in a way that truly enhances the reading experience.

Pros Cons
Engaging plot that keeps you hooked from beginning to end Some readers may find the political intrigue overwhelming at times
Well-crafted characters that feel like real people rather than caricatures The historical context may be intimidating for readers unfamiliar with Tudor England
Masterful storytelling that immerses you in the world of the novel Some readers may find the writing style dense or overly descriptive

Despite the minor drawbacks, “Bring Up the Bodies” is a triumph of historical fiction and well worth the read. So pick up a copy (or download the audiobook) and immerse yourself in the captivating world of Tudor England.


In conclusion, “Bring Up the Bodies” by Hilary Mantel is a must-read historical fiction novel that offers a gripping plot, intriguing characters, and a masterfully crafted narrative style. Mantel’s ability to bring the Tudor era to life is remarkable, providing readers with a rich historical context that immerses them in the world of Henry VIII and his courtiers. The novel’s exploration of power, loyalty, and betrayal resonates with readers even today, making it an enduring classic of the genre.

The critical acclaim and numerous awards received by the novel speak to its literary merit, while reader reactions and reviews show that it has resonated with audiences of all backgrounds and interests. Additionally, the audiobook narration and performance serve as a testament to the novel’s versatility and ability to engage listeners in a unique way.

All in all, “Bring Up the Bodies” is a highly recommended read for anyone with an interest in historical fiction, Tudor history, or simply a well-written and engaging novel. Its impact on the genre and the literary world at large cannot be overstated, and its place in literary history is well-deserved.


Is "Bring Up the Bodies" a standalone novel or part of a series?

“Bring Up the Bodies” is the second novel in Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy, following “Wolf Hall” and preceding “The Mirror and the Light.”

Can I read "Bring Up the Bodies" without having read "Wolf Hall"?

While it is possible to read “Bring Up the Bodies” as a standalone novel, it is recommended to read “Wolf Hall” first to fully understand the characters and events that lead up to the events in this book.

What is the historical context of "Bring Up the Bodies"?

“Bring Up the Bodies” is set in 16th-century England during the reign of King Henry VIII and focuses on the downfall of Anne Boleyn and the rise of Thomas Cromwell.

Who are the main characters in "Bring Up the Bodies"?

The main characters in “Bring Up the Bodies” include Thomas Cromwell, Anne Boleyn, King Henry VIII, and various members of the royal court.

How would you describe the writing style and narrative technique in "Bring Up the Bodies"?

Hilary Mantel’s writing style in “Bring Up the Bodies” is lyrical and vivid, with a strong emphasis on historical accuracy. The narrative is told from a third-person limited perspective, primarily focusing on Thomas Cromwell’s experiences and thoughts.

How is the audiobook narration and performance of "Bring Up the Bodies"?

The audiobook version of “Bring Up the Bodies” is narrated by Simon Vance, who brings the characters and the story to life with his captivating performance. His ability to differentiate the voices of the various characters enhances the listening experience.

What are some of the themes explored in "Bring Up the Bodies"?

Some of the themes explored in “Bring Up the Bodies” include power, ambition, loyalty, betrayal, and the consequences of one’s actions.

How does "Bring Up the Bodies" compare to the previous novel in the series?

“Bring Up the Bodies” continues the compelling narrative of Thomas Cromwell’s rise to power, delving deeper into his complex character and the political intrigue of the Tudor court. It builds upon the foundations laid in “Wolf Hall” and advances the storyline.

Has "Bring Up the Bodies" received critical acclaim and awards?

Yes, “Bring Up the Bodies” has received widespread critical acclaim and numerous awards, including the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 2012.

What have readers been saying about "Bring Up the Bodies"?

Readers have praised “Bring Up the Bodies” for its rich historical detail, immersive storytelling, and compelling characters. Many have described it as a worthy successor to “Wolf Hall” and highly recommend it to fans of historical fiction.

How has "Bring Up the Bodies" impacted the historical fiction genre?

“Bring Up the Bodies” has made a significant impact on the historical fiction genre, raising the bar for historical accuracy, character development, and storytelling. It has inspired other authors to approach historical subjects with a fresh perspective and meticulous research.

Do you recommend reading "Bring Up the Bodies"?

Yes, “Bring Up the Bodies” comes highly recommended for fans of historical fiction, especially those with an interest in the Tudor period. Hilary Mantel’s masterful writing and portrayal of Thomas Cromwell make it a captivating and unforgettable read.

What are your final thoughts on "Bring Up the Bodies"?

“Bring Up the Bodies” is a remarkable novel that seamlessly blends history and fiction, transporting readers to the tumultuous world of King Henry VIII’s court. Hilary Mantel’s writing and character development are exceptional, making it a must-read for anyone who appreciates literary excellence.

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